These are the five key moments that defined the results and ultimately the winner at Red Bull Romaniacs 2019, round five of WESS.
The Sweet 16 Edition of Romaniacs is in the record books and it has a new champion in the shape of Manuel Lettenbichler.
To say it was a popular victory would be an understatement after the boy done good and emulated his father, Andreas, to make history and seal wins for the Lettenbichler family 10 years apart.
When it was all said and done we got to thinking about the five key moments that defined the outcome of this epic 2019 edition of the world’s toughest hard enduro…
1. Wade Young going out
The 2019 Red Bull Romaniacs began well enough for defending Champion, Wade Young. The Sherco rider was easily in with a shout and sat in second place after day one, a minute behind Jarvis.
In fact it had already gone pear-shaped for the South African as unknown to most, he’d smashed his foot early in the day. Adrenalin had gotten him through but it didn’t look good.
Shortly after 6.30am on day two, Young encountered a technical issue with his gear selector on the first climb of the day and returned to the start for repairs with his still present Sherco service crew.
Despite losing almost one hour, Young re-joined the race and made it to the midday service point. By this time he was running way down the order and certainly out of contention. With his foot swelled and painful and no result to ride for, the decision was taken to throw in the towel and let his foot live to fight another day.
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Went into the race today determined to be on the podium contrary to all expectations. It’s with a heavy heart that I have to announce that I will no longer be able to continue racing @redbullromaniacs this year, due to the fractures worsening in my foot and therefore, made a decision based on my overall physical health in preparation for upcoming races. Thank you for everyone’s continuous support and messages. @sherco_racing_factory @redbullza @kennyracing81 @airohelmets @gaerneofficial @scottmotosports @polisportplastics @twin_air @axpracing @galfer_brakes @mac_racing_suspension @pod_active
2. Top three pulling clear – rival riders counting themselves out early
To say the top three pulled clear of the field after day two could be harsh but already a gap was emerging between the fastest three, Gomez, Lettenbichler, Jarvis at this point and the rest. At the same time a bigger gap began to emerge between the top eight and the rest of the Gold class as well.
The “Hard Enduro Rallye” as they call it, has always had that additional ‘marathon not a sprint’ element. With the pace increasingly hot during the four off road days (remember the days when riders could rest between the hard bits?!) these days it is more the case of sprint through the marathon.
Riders are treating each non-technical section like enduro – at times like motocross according to eventual winner, Manuel Lettenbichler following Alfredo Gomez during their epic battles.
What you can’t afford to do any longer is lose time anywhere by being not quite on point or having an issue of any sort.
As a two-time winner of Romaniacs, Jonny Walker knows what it takes to beat the best here but counted himself out simply by not quite firing on all cylinders in the early days. A change of bike set-up for the final day was all-too late and he finished 50 minutes down on Lettenbichler.
Another example was Taddy Blazusiak who by contrast was in good form at this year’s Romaniacs. But Taddy knocked a fuel line crashing during day one which cost him time he was never going to catch back, despite trying.
The old dog clawed back from eighth to fourth but in this event huge chunks of time lost are seemingly impossible to pull back as all riders outside the top three will contest.
3. Graham losing his GPS
To lose one GPS is careless but to lose them both is just downright reckless! Two-times winner of WESS events this season, including his record-breaking fifth win at Erzbergrodeo, Graham Jarvis was setting himself up nicely for a comeback on the final day in Romania.
With a deficit of just over four minutes to make up on leader Lettenbichler during the final day, Jarvis started slowly but as the weather changed he began to haul time back in the typically British conditions.
As riders arrived at the service point mid-way through Off Road Day 4 he actually lead the field but an innocuous crash on a downhill not long after the service wiped the two units clean off his handlebars, forcing Graham to continue the day blind or using other riders as a guide.
Admitting to going the wrong way at least once, suddenly instead of pushing on past his rivals to lead from the front, Jarvis was forced to follow to keep on course. The time gains dried-up and it became a two-horse race between Lettenbichler and Gomez.
Did it affect the results? We will never know but for sure the dice rolled in the favour of Jarvis when it rained on the last day. The uphill climbs were tough and technical – just the territory we have seen Graham take advantage so many times in the past.
He’d also admitted to holding back a little on the penultimate day to save the energy for the fourth and final long and hard day. Ifs and buts though…
4. Alfredo throws it away
Sport can be so cruel but nothing looked so bad as the site of Alfredo Gomez literally losing his grip on victory in the Gusterita quarry – within site of the flag.
Through the afternoon the Gomez and Lettenbichler traded the lead through checkpoints setting up a grand finale in the quarry. Arriving first, Lettenbichler had no reference for lines and climbs you could not stand up on made those last moments of the week-long event an epic, strength-sapping struggle. No-one knew as Manni struggled with the conditions if he was haemorrhaging away the lead or not. When he crossed the line he could only sit and wait.
Then Alfredo arrived and while he matched the progress of Manni through most of the quarry, one double-uphill climb caught him out big time. It was horrible to watch as Gomez tried time again to make the hill and fell back where Manni had made it in one go.
In the end it was the defining moment for the race win. As time ticked and Lettenbichler celebrated knowing the clock was in his favour. It was a dramatic an ending as Romaniacs has witnessed.
Witness the struggles of Gomez:
5. Help is at hand – teamwork makes the dream work
Think Hard Enduro and you think long days riding, epic uphills, pushing, pulling and strength-sapping terrain.
Those epic climbs can often be so steep they take immense skills and above all physical effort to conquer. If you have a team of people helping you pull up those incredibly technical sections then life becomes that little bit easier and importantly a whole lot less effort.
As we can see in so many pictures and onboard footage from the 2019 Romaniacs there were many helping hands for the front runners like Lettenbichler, Gomez and Jarvis.
But for other riders on the same hills – well life wasn’t always quite so easy – despite so many spectators and fans getting involved.
“You cannot imagine what it is to be suffering and see how the other riders are not spending the same energy.” Explains Pol Tarres in a social media post after the event.
The point Tarres makes, and it is the case for the majority of the entry, the same level of helping hands wasn’t there for everybody and that creates a divide between the riders in the big teams and the rest.
That is not to say any riders or teams are doing anything wrong – something Tarres makes a big point of saying. All riders are there trying their damn hardest to get the best possible results and no-one wishes ill-will. It is also not to negate the efforts of spectators and fans slogging up the hills to help their heroes either.
But it does create a clear divide between the riders who have and those who have not got the team personnel in waiting on these hills. It is no coincidence, and certainly not through any lack of ability to ride a bike, that riders like Tarres and those around him dropped time like water through a sieve on certain sections across the four days.
Wasn’t it ever the case? Pro riders get all the luck don’t they? Best bikes and best teams? Not always. Some factory supported riders and teams competing in the World Enduro Super Series have a clear advantage in scale and it showed this year at Romaniacs – and that's without mentioning the Gold class privateers or the hundreds of riders having their own struggles across the Silver, Bronze and Iron classes.Photo credit: Future7Media Jon PearsonEnduro21 Editor and Bike Testerjon.firstname.lastname@example.org